I recently sold my car. It was annoying and cathartic in ways that may be familiar to some of you. I originally bought that particular car for my (now ex) wife. When it came time for us to formally separate I offered to sign over the title to her and find a different car for myself as I had sold my Jeep a few months prior. She chose instead to purchase a brand new vehicle and tried to stick me with the payments. I invested in a lawyer at that point.
The car was reliable, dependable, safe, and not at all what I require in a vehicle. It was a Hyundai Sonata. A family sedan. I have no children with the exception of a 130 lb Rottweiler named Piper. When I left my marriage I set out on a journey both literal and figurative which would see me changing nearly every single aspect of my existence as a human being. That car was one of the final relics from a life which I was no longer living. Following the 3,000 mile trek from DeLand, Florida to my new permanent residence of Portland, Oregon, I began to contemplate a change. After my father died I inherited his red Ford F-150 NASCAR edition pickup truck. I clearly did not need a truck and a car. Living in Portland hardly necessitates one own a vehicle of any type aside from the requisite bicycle. My wheels are for carrying things I cannot carry on my own and for escaping the city when I feel the need. The truck would stay. The car would go.
I listed the car on Craigslist for just slightly below blue book value. It took a couple weeks and a lot of frustration, but I did eventually sell my car to someone who had the money and would appreciate it. I met all manner of people in the process. Some were looking for charity with sob stories about the price of tuition and books at Portland State. Others were just looking to try and get my car for next to nothing at all, inventing knocking noises in the engine and imagining leaking fluids which were invisible yet somehow meant I must drop the asking price. To be honest, people started to blend into one another and became indistinguishable when they would text with one final offer for me to take or leave. One individual did manage to stick out from the rest.
We had an appointment to meet so that he could see and test drive my car. He made it clear he was not buying the car for himself, but rather was doing the leg work for a friend in need who had recently broken up with her boyfriend and did not own her own car. He was roughly my age — early 30s — friendly, and completely unremarkable. While we were walking around the car the corner of his mouth curled into a smile. He half chuckled as he pointed to the license plate and asked, “Why does it have veteran’s plates?”
Many states offer a variety of military and veteran license plates. Some have an additional fee which usually goes to benefit some veteran organizations. Most that I have seen are gaudy as hell, usually featuring an American flag backdrop with maybe an eagle, or perhaps a yellow ribbon symbolizing the efforts many have made in order to cash in on the service of others by way of selling trinkets made to identify the owner as someone who “supports the troops,” whatever the hell that means. In the state of Oregon there is a plate which at first looks exactly like the generic and iconic state license plate featuring a backdrop of mountains with a Douglas fir tree bisecting the plate down the center. The disabled veteran version has no place for a renewal sticker. It is stamped “permanent” and does not require any recurring renewal after the one-time $15 registration fee is paid. It is a simple gesture which, in my opinion, communicates a dignified sentiment of appreciation without forcing any further political message on behalf of the driver or the state. As a disabled veteran, I display one on my own vehicle. This was to what the young man was referring.
“I am a veteran,” I replied.
This is not the first time I encountered a question like this. I told him I had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. An “oh” escaped his lips as if he was reminded of the correct answer to a test question. He then told me he was expecting “an old dude with a walker.” His voice became high and frail as he mimicked what he thought a combat veteran should sound like, using words like “sonny.” I stared quietly as he insisted on displaying the full breadth of his ignorance. When he finished I thanked him for coming by and walked back into the house. I wasn’t terribly offended by what he had said. It was simply a perfect embodiment of how disconnected American society has become from the wars fought in its name.
Cue the angered response summed up as some variation on the theme of how “not everyone” feels that way. If you are one of those people who feel offended by the previous statement I do genuinely hope you feel better after getting that out of your system and I hope you will continue forward with me as I briefly elaborate on my point.
June is PTSD Awareness Month. Congress has named June 27th PTSD Awareness Day. Studies show that upwards of 22 veterans commit suicide daily in the US and the rate is increasing rapidly. Men in my demographic are three times more likely to attempt suicide than our civilian counterparts. Female veterans who were raped or sexually assaulted during their service to our country are six times more likely to attempt suicide. On any given night in America there are an estimated 57,849 homeless veterans on the streets. These statistics fill volumes of congressional reports that go unread by the public that is satisfied with raising a flag at a barbecue and slapping a yellow ribbon magnet on their car.
There are innumerable challenges facing the veterans of the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as we attempt to reenter “normal” life. The denial of our very existence should not be one of them.